The Digital Standards Organization (Digistan) seeks to promote customer choice, vendor competition, and overall growth in the global digital economy through the understanding, development, and adoption of free and open digital standards (“open standards”).

In concrete terms, we seek to:

  1. Educate industry and government about the socioeconomic benefits of open standards;
  2. Advocate legislative and regulatory backing for open standards;
  3. Help standards developers produce high-quality open standards;
  4. Helps standards authorities understand, qualify, and enforce open standards.
  5. Defend the open standards community, small and large, against capture by vendors.

Digistan is active in, and welcomes active support, in these all areas.

Why open standards matter

Standards are the constitutions that create communities, and communities make the market.

We consider a market to consists of:

  • Customers seeking solutions to their business demands.
  • Vendors looking to provide technologies, products, and services.
  • Brokers and authorities who regulate and moderate the market.

Without open standards, we get fragmented markets in which vendors do not truly compete, customers do not have free choice, and large parts of our technology stacks are proprietary and closed. Lock-in, not competition, becomes the main strategy from established vendors. New small vendors with innovative solutions and advanced technology are prevented from competing. This creates niche markets which may be individually large but are overall insignificant compared to the potential market size.

A successful technology market is typified by:

  • Open standardization right down the stack, ensuring customer choice and vendor competition at all levels;
  • Aggressive lowering of cost and risk in stable areas, following the same curve as Moore’s Law;
  • Rapid growth into new areas built on stable standards, driven by competition between customers in their business areas.

Open standards make this possible and the more ‘open’ our standards are, the more successful the technology market becomes.

This creative destruction is often impossible for larger firms who have established interests, but easy for smaller ones. However a rising tide lifts all ships, except those with broken hulls, and larger vendors will usually engage in making the tide rise.

The community makes the market. We see the customers, vendors, brokers, and authorities as an ecosystem, a community. The community thrives or withers mainly according to the quality, openness, and authority of its standards.

Franchises are not open standards

The term “open standard” is sometimes abused by vendors who fit into the “leaky hull” category. Some industries, like telecoms and media, and some dominant firms are particularly fond of standards that work within strictly-defined franchises that come close to cartels.

Franchise standards are typically backed by patents or patent pools and/or trade secrets. While franchise standards appear to create customer choice and competition, this competition is strictly regulated by the vendors themselves, through the use of patent licenses and trade secrets. The result is that true broker and independent authorities are effectively excluded, markets based on these standards do not develop beyond the initial generation of products, and no real community emerges.

One can compare email, a family of open standards that have created multiple generations of markets and businesses (think of eBay and PayPal) with GSM, which is successful but largely dead as a platform for further markets.

There is a great conflict between software patents and open standards: it has been noted that vendor collaboration that would be illegal and grounds for imprisonment under anti-cartel rules becomes fully legal when a single patent is introduced into the agreement. Software patents thus enable cartel-like behavior in the digital economy and such examples are very widespread.

Some large vendors have even tried to fix statutory definitions of “open standard” to include franchise standards backed by software patents

When we speak of “a standard”, we aspire unambiguously for a free and open standard free of any patent claims, usable by all vendors and customers without restriction or license cost of any kind, and free of the risk any cartel-like behavior by the vendors, if any, who develop the standard.